Saturday, November 12, 2011


When it was time for my first follow-up appointment with the orthopedic surgeon, three days after being discharged from the hospital, my derby wife / nursemaid / angel / savior/ comedy team partner Wendy and I headed out. Our destination was the Gateway Medical Center complex comprised of the hospital and its cleverly named adjoining office building, “Medical Office Building 1.” Seriously. They even invested in metal letters on the facade to spell it out. It looks like they need a nice big donation from some local philanthropist so they can have a better name for that building. Anyone?  At least this time I was arriving at the center in a personal vehicle and not an ambulance.

Our hospital is an attractive structure. The first time I saw it at night, illuminated by the dramatic and expertly placed architectural lighting, it reminded me of the castle in the Emerald City of Oz or my first view of Foxwoods Casino rising up grand and beautiful in the middle of nothing, or in this case, a tobacco field. The building gives great face, its majestic facade attracting the eye of drivers on the nearby interstate. Strategically located between exits on I-24 which runs past it (so close you can almost touch it), you can't actually reach it directly from the interstate -- you need to know the magical labyrinth of side and back roads, and not become flustered by Dunlop Lane when it suddenly dead-ends at Ted Crozier Blvd, resulting in a panic-inducing moment for the uninitiated, as the hospital's address IS on Dunlop Lane, and when approaching fom the mall, drivers are suddenly faced with the orange and white striped road barrier signifying the road is no more, and beyond it, a farm field. It requires a right turn, then a left at the next light, and it's on the road again. Maybe it's part of a diabolical master plan to become a major player in the cardiac field -- boost the treatment numbers with all the extra walk-in traffic for cardiac events incurred while trying to visit a Gateway patient or a specialist in Medical Building One. Fortunately, we knew exactly where to go.

We had a plan. Wendy would drop me off at the building, park the car, then accompany me to the second floor suite housing my surgeon's office. Once I was settled, she would head out to an appointment of her own and return when she was done.

The first obstacle we encountered was the door, which is not the rare and exotic hands-free automatically opening door like those generally found at exclusive locations like Kroger, Walgreen's, WalMart or any number of other places accessed by intact and impaired people alike. These doors, set in an expansive wall of glass, require human intervention for activation, which is really a special touch when one is separated from life by say, a walker, or is juggling crutches. Don't be shy, just hippity-hop on up and give that big handle a yank. Beyond that door was a vestibule featuring a lovely weather matt not secured to the floor and perfect for tripping up those walker legs and that one good foot before reaching another glass wall with another door demanding a personal relationship for operation. We fought our way through the doors into the lobby where I hobbled to the first bench I saw, conveniently located immediately inside the second set of doors and parked myself and my high-speed, high-tech walker while Wendy went to park the car.

From my perch on a lovely upholstered bench, I surveyed the battlefield. The use of stone, glass and wood gave a wonderful textural feel to the large open area. Medical office doors dotted the walls around the lobby. A wide wooden staircase sat about three-fourths of the way into the lobby. There were framed color photos of beautiful nature scenes hung on the walls. Perhaps the most interesting detail was the placement of the elevators to the upper floors – unobtrusively tucked (in other words, practically hidden) neatly on the back wall at the furthest possible point from the entrance, a distance of approximately one mile according to my narcotic-medicated, walker-hobbling self. The distance from the bench to the elevators was downright frightening. For the past three days a round-trip trek of maybe 30 feet from the couch to the bathroom and back resulted in sufficient fatigue so as to require a nap. The estimate is probably way off, because I really have no sense of distance, but relatively speaking, I now needed to cross the equivalent of a continent the size of North America to advance to the next phase of this real-life game quest to reach Suite 210. Game on.

Upon reaching the second level of the building, we took a right out of the elevator and were faced with a corridor roughly the length of the Appalachian Trail, though absent the hills, wildlife and shrubbery. Wendy was ahead of me, scouting our magical destination, and I called out to her that I needed to rest. There were people behind me, who I motioned to go past me as I paused, forearms resting on the top bar of the walker, breathing heavily from all the one-legged hopping. Wendy called back over her shoulder, “Quit your bitching and keep moving,” which cracked me up and nearly caused bladder failure. When she picked me up from the hospital on Tuesday to transport me to her house, Wendy kidded that she was going to play Kathy Bates’ role in Misery, and occasionally we slipped into a little spiel. The comic relief provided when she discovered we were not alone in that hallway was enough to propel me down its never-ending expanse. Unfortunately, the reward at the end of the hallway was yet another forever-long hallway. Very video game-esque, these corridors.

After some 30 days of weary travel, we finally entered the waiting room of the Orthopedic and Spinal Surgery office. There were several people already there, at least half of them sporting the same trendy Bledsoe Boot that I was wearing, prompting chitchat about the latest fall footwear. Being my first office visit, there was at least a ream of paperwork to deal with, including checklists of symptoms, medical history, and the rules of the office appointments and payment expectations. The main directive I remembered receiving from the doctor at my discharge from the hospital was to keep my foot elevated. There was good reason to follow this order, as my foot throbbed and felt like it would explode any time it was not propped and elevated. I looked around the waiting room for a footstool, but there were none, nor were there any low tables. The chairs had wooden arms separating them, so it was not possible to just turn and hoist a leg on an adjoining chair, restaurant booth style. My leg was pounding in agony after the grueling journey from the car to the office and felt like it really would explode without immediate elevation. I asked the receptionist for a wastebasket, storage tub, or anything else that could be used to prop my leg. A stepstool with shiny white paint was produced. Except for the part where the boot kept slipping on the slick, painted surface, it was suitable. Could I really be the first compound fractured tibia-fibula patient in this practice who was trying to follow the doctor's directive? This building was attractic, but its loveliness carried a harsh penalty for the visitors.

Before she headed out for her own appointment, Wendy requested a wheelchair for our trip out of the office. I think she knew she'd have to carry me otherwise. And the surprising news from the Orthopedic and Spinal office staff -- they didn't have a wheelchair, and would have to go next door to the hospital to borrow one. Thankfully, they did, or our exit from the bulding could have been a catastrophe of epic proportions. Heck, after fighting with the weight of the seven-foot tall solid wood door to the restroom we both needed to use before leaving, we barely got out of the there intact. I'm not claiming to have the strength of Wonder Woman here, but seriously, I have no idea how the more frail, elderly patients even make it in or out of that office building. I said as much to the office nurses. I also pointed out to the doctor that the building was pretty, but the architect either seemed to have completely neglected to consider who would be using it, or had a very cruel sense of humor.

During my second visit there, while completing a patient satisfaction survey, I politely suggested in the "Additional Comments" section that they "move to a smaller office building with fewer obstacles, as weakened, hobbled patients are exhausted by the time they reached the second-floor suite. Or maybe it's just me." Just a thought.

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